Director William Friedkin, best known for the Oscar-winning films “The French Connection” and the blockbuster “The Exorcist,” died Monday in Los Angeles. He was 87 years old.
His death was confirmed by Chapman University dean Stephen Galloway, a friend of Friedkin’s wife, Sherry Lansing.
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Friedkin rose to A-list status as part of the next generation of live, risk-taking filmmakers in the 1970s, along with Peter Bogdanovich, Francis Ford Coppola, and Hal Ashby. Combining his experience in television, especially documentary film, with his cutting-edge editing style, Friedkin brought great energy to the genres of horror and detective thrillers he specializes in.
“The French Connection” was an incredibly fast-paced and morally ambiguous story, shot in a documentary style and featuring one of cinema’s most famous car chase sequences, rightfully so. “Connection” won multiple Oscars, including best picture, director, and actor (Gene Hackman), and became a touchstone for the cop genre in film and television for years to come.
After the critical glory of “The French Connection” came 1973’s “The Exorcist,” which grossed $500 million worldwide and ushered in the blockbuster era in motion pictures with “The Godfather.” Based on William Peter Blatty’s novel about the demonic possession of a young girl, “The Exorcist” was a highly stylized thriller that was as effective in “Connection” as it was in horror detective thrillers. It brought him a second Oscar nomination for best director.
After his success in the notable films of the 1970s, Friedkin made the superlative thriller “To Live and Die in LA.” When he married studio head Sherry Lansing in 1991, he began directing films regularly.
Friedkin started in the mailroom of Chicago TV channel WGN, where he quickly went on to direct television shows and documentaries. He said he directed nearly 2,000 TV shows in those early years, including the 1962 documentary “The People vs. Paul Crump.” This earned him a Golden Door Award at the San Francisco Film Festival, leading him to lead the documentary division at WBKB and then a job as a documentary director for producer David L. Wolper.
He left documentaries behind, hoping to break into feature filmmaking in the mid-60s. Before the hiatus, he directed an episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” when producer Steve Broidy hired him to direct the 1967 pop music story “Good Times” starring Sonny and Cher.
The cutting-edge style, like those in contemporary Richard Lester’s films, added some sparkle to the film. Building on the strength of this film, Friedkin was hired for “The Night They Raided Minsky’s,” a ridiculously earth-centered nostalgic piece in which Friedkin instills a fresh, modern look through camerawork and editing. He steered for two vehicles connected to the scene, Harold Pinter’s “Birthday Party” and Matt Crowley’s adaptation of “The Boys in the Band.”
There was no indication of what was to come when he directed “The French Connection” in 1971, and 1973’s highly stylized horror film “The Exorcist” was another breakout for Friedkin.
But “The Exorcist” proved to be his last box office hit. He didn’t direct another movie until 1977’s “The Sorcerer,” a formidable adaptation of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s “The Wages of Fear.” It was way over budget and disappointed at the time, but has been appreciated ever since. These were followed by the thriller “The Brink’s Job,” the controversial “Cruising,” and the 1983 comedy “Deal of the Century.”
In the early 1980s, Friedkin and Blatty were partners on an “Exorcist III” project, but Friedkin left the project due to creative differences.
In 1985, he showed his talent as an interesting style director with “To Live and Die in LA,” a handsome, well-received thriller that had only moderate financial success.
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Apart from “Rampage” in 1987, Friedkin spent most of his time on television working on TV shows such as “Tales From the Crypt”, “The Twilight Zone”, “Space Quest” and “CAT Squad”. In 2000 he directed the moderately successful military drama “Rules of Engagement”.
In between, he directed the remake of “Twelve Angry Men” and the documentary “Howard Hawks: American Artist” for the well-received cable release. The remake of “The Exorcist” with additional footage grossed $40 million in the US
In the 2000s, Friedkin starred in the 2003 thriller “The Hunted” starring Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro, and the 2007 horror film “Bug” starring Ashley Judd and Harry Connick Jr., in which Tracy Letts adapted her own movie. went to the white screen. The stage play Friedkin saw in 2004.
In 2011, he finished “Killer Joe,” starring Matthew McConaughey and Emile Hirsch, adapted from Letts’ own play. The controversial crime film had a limited release in the US in 2012. With an estimated budget of $11 million, the movie only grossed $4 million worldwide. Friedkin also directed two episodes of “CSI.”
Born in Chicago, Friedkin attended Senn High School, where he wasn’t much of a student, but was trying to turn his basketball prowess to the professional level. However, as he never grew taller than 1,80 cm, he turned his career path into journalism.
Working in documentary form for years, the director has appeared in many documentaries about films and producers over the years, such as 2003’s “A Decade Under the Influence” and “Pure Cinema: Through the Master”.
He married newscaster Kelly Lange and actors Lesley-Anne Down and Jeanne Moreau. He was survived by his fourth wife, Lansing, and two sons, she.